Friendship Through The Hard Times

APRIL 2018

Did you have a chance to watch Barbara Bush’s gorgeous funeral? Living in Houston, her service was the buzz of the weekend and well deserved. Barbara was a legend: confident in who she was, supportive of loved ones, unyielding in her beliefs, gracious under pressure. The embodiment of a feminist icon, without ever having to declare her title. A true “Steel Magnolia”.

Barbara’s strength was undeniable, yet she did not have an “easy” path. The cartoon image that went viral of the reunion of Barbara and her three year old daughter, Robin, at the Pearly Gates, struck so many hearts this week. I believe its impact stems from the question: HOW DOES SOMEONE KEEP GOING AFTER THAT? We’ve all heard tragic stories and gone through them ourselves. I can’t give you Barb’s answer to this question, but I can humbly attempt mine. This year we lost our daughter the day after she was born. The details are impossibly hard to sum up here, but hopefully the heartache transcends the need for a description. It was (and still is) the worst. So what can you/we do as friends to help those around us who are going through tough times? Here are my 3 “Tried and True” Tips:

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One of the first thing people text/write/email during times of grief is “Let us know if we can do anything for you.” Have you ever heard back from someone that you’ve said this to? I haven’t. Being on the receiving end of this question puts you in a difficult position too… “YES, I need help! I literally can’t function right now; never mind make dinner for my husband, 2 year old, and 8 family members camping out at our house!” (Side note: not every situation is as extreme as ours, but hopefully you get the picture…) Trust me, just go visit your friend. See what they need in person. I didn’t exactly know what tangible items I needed, but I do now: I needed them. I needed my friends and closest family to love on me, share their strength and remind me to eat. Which leads me to…

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I think this is something that Southerners really get right. We know how to share food and commune together wholeheartedly. Your grieving friend may end up with multiples of food and that is OK! (It’s actually amazing how much food guests of grieving people eat (nervous energy?) so just go into the whole process thinking ‘this will be shared by many!’) Whatever you bring, however much you bring, to whomever you bring it: food is always comforting. I love what Alan Wolfett, author of The Journey of Grief says, “Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate.”

Helpful ideas: 1) Bring a Breakfast Basket: Muffins, Pastries, Precut Fruit, Orange Juice. 2) Casseroles ready to eat or freeze (preferably in a disposable tray. It’s really challenging to remember whose dish was, especially during emotionally difficult times). 3) Pick-up food from their spouse/caretaker/children’s favorite restaurant. It’ll make their day too.

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While the initial outpouring of love during difficult times is absolutely wonderful (and completely necessary), it’s just as important to check back in later. It gets quiet QUICK. Here are some easy ideas to show your loved ones you’re still thinking about them: A) Put the DOH (Date of heartbreak) in your calendar and mark it again one year later. Acknowledging the DOH anniversary is enormously helpful and can make the experience less isolating. B) Books! One of the best care packages I received included Max Lucado’s You’ll Get Through This. I didn’t read it right away, but wow, did it help 4 months down the road! Please note: Old Southern Charm’s Etsy Shop is now carrying book care packages to spread this love with others. If there has been a book that has helped you through a difficult time, please email me! I’d love to carry it. C) Don’t be afraid to send a card later down the road and directly mention the heartbreak. There’s no need to allude to the incident with an ambiguous “I’m thinking of you”. It’s OK to say “I’m thinking of you and know you’re missing Sam. We all are. Sending big hugs your way!”. Personalization always goes the extra mile.

Grieving with others can often be awkward, emotional, and frankly, hard on you. It’s not easy, but I promise: your friend will never forget the kindness shown during their difficult time. I know Barbara Bush didn’t forget and I can’t help but think the pillar of strength she became grew directly out of the pain of losing a child. She is quoted saying “At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.” So go be with your friends. And don’t forget to be just as present in the hard times too. Rest In Peace, dear Bar.

Wanna Wabi Sabi?

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March 2017

I’ve been on a quest lately to accept imperfection. As an artist, I’m constantly battling my inner perfectionism. It’s my career to make things aesthetically pleasing, yet most of the time my personal life can’t stand up to the pressure. Do you ever feel that way? The voice may start small: “This house is a wreck! We’re never going to host a dinner party again”, but soon a larger cultural pressure chimes in saying “your parties will never look like the ones on social media”. Gosh dang it, Pinterest!

So where do we find balance? Is it still possible to host people at your home and have fun doing it? I believe the answer is yes, but with a caveat: keep your perspective in check. I️ came across an article this week with a built-in “ah ha” moment. The article discussed the Japanese lifestyle mantra “Wabi Sabi”. It’s like Feng Shui-ing your mindset. Created in the 15th Century, early practitioners reminded people to simplify and embrace the imperfect. Robyn Griggs Lawrence, Editor of Natural Home magazine describes this difficult-to-translate state of mind like this:

Wabi-Sabi is everything that today’s sleek, mass-produced, technology-saturated culture isn’t. It’s flea markets, not shopping malls; aged wood, not swank floor coverings; one single morning glory, not a dozen red roses… It celebrates cracks and crevices and rot and all the other marks that time and weather and use leave behind. To discover wabi-sabi is to see the singular beauty in something that may first look decrepit and ugly.

Woah. Well, I may have baby toys everywhere, but at least my dining room isn’t decrepit and ugly!! I think a Wabi Sabi mindset would counter: “so what if it is?” Similarly, to fully embrace the art of hospitality, one must be ready to be vulnerable, with yourself and with your home. The perceived shortcomings may ultimately be what makes the party a great one. A well lived-in home for example ALWAYS puts me at ease when I arrive somewhere new. (Inner monologue: “oh good! I can stop pretending I don’t have a gigantic mail pile too!) The more you host, the more you can reciprocate that back to your guests too. When I started hosting again after having a baby, I ultimately had to make the decision, do I want to apologize for the mess every time this person comes over or do I just want to be myself? Take it or leave it, this is who I am. (Or maybe more mildly – “This is the real test of our friendship – I hope our messiness doesn’t run you away!”) The decision to be true to myself (and embrace a Wabi-Sabi way of life) has served me far better than being “Pinterest Ready” ever could. I have a close, understanding group of friends who know the true me and find beauty in my imperfection. I would call that southern hospitality success.

Sources: https://www.utne.com/mind-and-body/wabi-sabi

Let’s Take A Walk Around The Neighborhood: Southern Exteriors

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February 2018

Last month, we discussed the iconic southern front porch. For all its grandeur, when you pan the lens out a few feet, a home’s porch is simply an accessory. Southern residential architecture is an art form. It’s one of the region’s greatest prides and comes in many shapes and sizes. From grand mansions to chic cottages. There’s a home to fit every personality and price range.

There are many stylistic muses for Southern architecture: Neoclassical, Federal, French Colonial, Greek Revival, and the list goes on. For all the inspirational differences, I have found a few commonalities that run strong. First and foremost, they are always welcoming. Southern homes deliberately draw you in. Whether your curiosity peaks from their intricate details or the glimpses of décor seen through the floor-to-ceiling windows, Southern exteriors greet guests before the hostess even opens the door.

Secondly, they’re ready for the weather. Hot summers and active hurricane seasons are part of southern life. We know they’re coming, it’s just a matter of when. Southern homes are often elevated, with windows that open easily and multiple fans at the ready. Those classic “plantation” shutters aren’t just aesthetically pleasing either. They were created for function: Closing out the wind and the rain, while simultaneously letting the air flow. Did you know that these shutters were originally made in Greece? First made out of marble, the shutters transitioned to a wooden construction and their popularity skyrocketed in France’s 18th Century.

Finally, Southern homes are stylish. It’s all in the details. What draws me to southern architecture is their historical nod to style with a modern twist. Would you be surprised to see classic white columns across from a hot pink front door? Me neither and that’s what makes living in the south so fun! The region’s attention to house design began as far back as the 18th century. There was a great respect for European architectural styles stemming from the South’s large population of English, Irish, and French immigrants. The elegant, original details of these Neoclassical, Greek Revival, Federal and Georgian designs are still seen today. In a quintessential American move, however, southerners have adapted these architectural designs to make them individualized. Additional styles continue to be added throughout the years as well, such as Spanish and Creole inspired construction. This diversity continues to beautify the architectural landscape and makes Southern Exteriors that much more sought after. Architectural Digest top designer Thomas Jayne sums up the juxtaposition of new and old saying: “Tradition always has to be updated and pushed forward. After all, you wouldn’t send a debutante to her 80th birthday party wearing her original dress.” Although that might be a funny tradition to start…ha!

Southern homes inspire hospitality. They are welcoming, prepared, and stylish. To continue the discussion and see some of my favorite houses, please visit Old Southern Charm’s “Southern Exteriors” board on Pinterest. Thanks for stopping by!

Credits: Photo @instagranna , research: elledecor.com, theplantationshutterco.com, southernliving.com

2018: Here’s To More Front Porch Sitting!

HOSPITALITY INSIGHTS: JANUARY

I came across a great article over the holidays called “Why Northerners Will Never Get Southern Hospitality”. The title alone captured my attention and made me chuckle, but the heart of the material gave me genuine pause in the midst of the Christmas chaos. Author Roy Blount, Jr. writes:

“Before air-conditioning, climate was a factor [to hospitality]. In the South, people were more likely to be sitting on the porch when folks [walked by]. You couldn’t pretend not to be home when there you were, sitting on [your] porch. You could pretend to be dead, but then you couldn’t fan yourself.”

Oh the irony! But seriously, how do we get back to this? No, not the pretending to be dead part. The part where our culture had the time, energy, and good manners to make neighbors feel welcome. Hospitality has an innate selflessness about it. The act of cooking for others, serving a drink, and chit-chatting on the porch personify human emotions. Being hospitable tells your guests “you matter more to me in this moment than anything else.” (Note to self: resist the urge to check your phone!) Above all else, the art of hospitality teaches a simple lesson: other people come first. I’m looking forward to carrying that mantra into the new year.